Ritual as Part of Life

There are many Bluejays fans in Canada. If you happened to watch any of their games when Munenori Kawasaki was on their team, you might have noticed that he brought great joy to the baseball players. In the spring of 2013, he was the first Japanese-born position player to appear in a game for the Toronto team. He endeared himself to thousands of fans with his charming personality, and his rituals while on the field. When he was being cheered by the fans, he would turn and bow, with his hands in a “Namaste” position. When being praised by fellow Bluejays, his brilliant smile and bow brought a new sense of grace and dignity to the team. The lift in their spirits was tangible to the viewers.

When any of our seven little grandchildren are sharing a meal at our table, we hold hands around the table, raising them three times while shouting “YEA!” each time. This began when they were babies, and unable to understand the grace, but eager to join in the practise. Now we add words. Like naming the food for which we give thanks. This has become a sacred “rite” to them.

Human societies forever have evolved rituals which are of great importance to them. They may mark rites of passage, oaths of allegiance, certain sacraments of organized religions, etc. Hsun Tzu wrote that “Rites require us to treat both life and death with attentiveness.”

Religions have leaned heavily on the ritual act, especially in worship. A ritual can become embedded in the mind and memory of the worshipper, bringing a sense of awe, belonging and security to the members of that church or group. Paradoxically, rituals can serve to isolate the group from others, or act as a barrier to the “outsider.”

What can rituals mean for our emerging community of Progressive Christianity?

I think the answer comes down to our purpose to become a “Sacred Community.” To that end, we have intentions to lift up the ordinary and the extraordinary as being holy; as gifts to us and the earth. Indeed, behind each ritual there is a larger story:

-Without ritual, how can we express the profound power of being together in a supportive and loving atmosphere?

-Without ritual, how can we express our deep wonder and humility in the face of the abiding Mystery of Life?

-Without ritual, how can we share in the indescribable joy of the birth of a baby, or the exquisite gift of grace which is palpable when two humans decide to become partners in life?

-Without ritual, how can words carry us through our painful leave-taking of a precious person who has ended their journey on earth?

So far I have referred to human lives, but another page might include the rituals of animals, and for animals which are meaningful. How many of us have stood over the grave of a beloved pet and murmured words of gratitude and comm-union?

Let us, as a growing community of Spiritual Seekers, create meaningful ways in which we come together, pray and share food. Let us notice what our souls yearn to do when confronted with the beauty and power of the Universe Story; a story which for us is “beyond words.” (Have you experienced “the Cosmic Walk”? Sister Miriam McGillis’s narration has been used and modified over the years. This was a life-changing ritual for me!)

Let us hold gently to those rituals which have had meaning for us, but examine them diligently to be sure they are inclusive of others. Let us find richness in rituals which honour the Earth, our home; which revere the non-human community; and which draw together the human species in strength and compassion.

One more story: Sophia was my second grand-child, born of parents who attended Berwick Camp, a lovely secure hemlock-populated United Church campsite in southern Nova Scotia. At six months, Sophia was a lively and alert little redhead, beloved by all who met her. Her mother, a gifted Yoga teacher, asked Don and me if we would create a ceremony for Sophia’s baptism which would welcome her into the “earth community.” I crafted a blessing ceremony in which the four elements were incorporated.

While in her mother’s arms and with appropriate words, parents enacting:

a) Sophia’s feet and hands were blessed with real earth,

b) she was fanned with air from an eagle feather

c) her head and chest were sprinkled with pure water from our lake,

d) her lungs took in the lovely scent of sage while her feet and forehead were anointed with the cool ash. (Being careful of her dress)

Following this, she was wrapped in a stole given to me by a woman who is a minister in the Korean church (another ritual) and passed from friend to friend to receive their blessing. She beamed throughout the whole ceremony.

It is crucial that we use ritual to honour the sacredness of life and the Spirit of Life which flows through each of us. In so doing, we grow in experiencing who we are, and in realizing our amazing legacy of time, memory, astonishment and companionship.

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